Now that Election Day has come and gone, we can forget about elections for a while. No more mailers cluttering up your mailbox. No more random weird robocalls or push polls. We can go back to mindless Dr. Pepper commercials instead of campaign attack ads during football games.
And maybe, just maybe, things will cool off to the point that politics isn’t such a central focus in our lives.
That’s probably not only your hope, but it’s the hope of some who will be serving in the Alabama Legislature next year. They may want you to forget about elections altogether until the time is right.
As the Legislature is about to embark on a new quadrennium, many of the members of Alabama’s House and Senate will be forced to take some uncomfortable positions and votes in next year’s legislative session.
The smart money says Alabamians will see the Legislature raise the gas tax. With all this wealth, prosperity and opportunity that has come down south, we’re going to have to be able to get there. As of right now, the state’s road and bridge situation leaves much to be desired.
Traffic jams have become the norm in Mobile, Montgomery, Birmingham and Huntsville. It’s a top complaint, and they want something to do be done, but that’s going to require financing.
A lot of that financing will come from the federal government. As is often the case with federal funding, there are matching requirements most believe will result in a gas tax hike.
All these legislators who ran as uber-conservatives or as Donald Trump 2.0? It appears they’re going to be forced to raise at least one tax right at the start. This certainly will not be popular among Alabamians. Who wants to pay more at the gas pump?
But by the time the next statewide election comes around in 2022, the hope is the 2019 legislative session will be a distant memory.
Perhaps the most talked about state issue during the 2018 election cycle was a lottery. Now that even Mississippi, our neighbors with various forms of gambling at casinos spread around the state, has a lottery, most think it is about time for Alabama to have a lottery of its own.
The Legislature itself won’t decide if the state of Alabama will have a lottery. But they will determine if it should be put up for a vote of the people. That’s the big-picture part of the lottery issue.
The small-picture stuff regarding the lottery is where the real fight will be next year. What will the money generated by this lottery fund? What kind of lottery will it be? With this type of gambling legal in Alabama, will it mean the Poarch Creek Indians can expand their gaming operations at their casinos in Atmore, Wetumpka and Montgomery?
It’s highly unlikely we’ll have a repeat of 1999, when a lottery was perceived to be a threat to the casino business operated by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. According to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, money poured into Alabama from Mississippi to defeat the lottery referendum nearly 20 years ago.
Although Alabama seems to be plagued by a seemingly unending string of elections, this time around with a lottery referendum, it might not be as intrusive. The moral arguments against gambling seem moot to many given you can drive to any of the states bordering Alabama and participate in some kind of legalized gambling. Our culture has also changed over the past two decades. For some, they will probably go vote to approve a lottery so we can stop talking about it every election.
The gas tax and the lottery will likely garner the most headlines. But there might be a push for some other less popular things during the 2019 legislative session.
During this election cycle, as the Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox ran with Medicaid expansion as a key plank in his campaign platform. Republicans have dismissed this proposal as unaffordable. They acknowledge a huge lump sum of federal money would come into the state initially, and that might shore up the situation with rural hospital closures in Alabama. But it comes with a price tag later that is a step too far for GOP lawmakers.
However, some lame duck and out-of-office Republicans have recently come out in favor of biting the bullet and expanding Medicaid. Outgoing Clay County Sen. Gerald Dial was the big name to come forward.
It’s not clear the leadership in either chamber of the State House will allow such a proposal to see the light of day. That doesn’t mean we won’t be at least talking about it in a few months.
Last but not least, let us not forget that the Alabama Education Association still exists and is trying to re-emerge as a relevant force in Alabama politics.
One of its targets is the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA) passed earlier this decade. Recently, it has been under fire from local school boards, including Baldwin County’s School Board and the Montgomery County Public School Board, both of which have passed resolutions calling for its repeal.
The law gives parents the option of transferring students from schools deemed “failing” by the state. That is apparently problematic for some local school boards.
In theory, at least, the AAA remains popular. Most people think a little competition within systems with struggling schools is a good thing. Otherwise, there is no incentive to improve “failing” schools.
Electoral politics will be on hiatus, but the annual circus will be underway in Montgomery before we know it. The problem is if you don’t like what happens in this “circus,” there won’t be much you can do about it until the electoral politics start back up again.